PLEASE NOTE: This is a drama review I wrote aaaagggggeeeesss ago when I had a different old site. I have just published it all here in its original form, and not really updated it. So although it is new, it is also quite old!
This drama is from 2013, and stars the always wonderful Lee Jun Ki as well as Kim So-yeon, Ryu Soo-young and Park Ha-sun. Also, Song Jae-rim is in there too!
Really this whole story boils down to one man’s redemption, all caused by the catalyst of his daughter being his second chance at having a life. It was so much deeper than just a simple man-on-the-run-wrongfully-accused drama. It was so much better than that too, with the first few, admittedly exciting, but also soulless action episodes evolving into an emotional story of love and hope and choices.
I LOVED these characters by the end. What an emotional ride!
TWO WEEKS KDRAMA REVIEW
This drama starts off as a cold-action packed thriller, as a man framed for murder, Tae San (Lee Jun Ki), escapes from custody and is chased across half the country in his bid to clear his name and get to the hospital on the day of his daughter’s surgery.
Little cute munchkin Soo Jin’s presence in his thoughts, as she appears at Tae San’s side to talk to him intermittently, certainly adds some warmth to these early episodes but on the whole, although I was thoroughly enjoying the fast-paced story, I felt a little disconnected from Tae San’s plight and was sure that as long as he made it in time for the surgery at the end, even if he then died, I would be happy with the result.
But then suddenly something changes. Little by little Tae San’s unlikable and lowlife exterior is broken down using flash-backs and his current actions, until the viewer is truly afforded a look inside this broken young man. And suddenly it really really matters whether Tae San lives or dies at the end of this drama.
It really matters.
It astounds me how well this story developed its characters, and it is what turned it from a fun and rollicking action ride into something so much deeper and more affecting.
But I even kind of love how slowly that happened as well. I love the way Tae San is revealed for the first few episodes as a bit of a good-for-nothing. We get to know him as a small time gangster with no ambition and no direction, someone willing to sleep with rich women for money, the lowest of the low with no hope for change.
Even when he is on the run, Tae San is likable enough but still not a completely sympathetic character. We see in flashbacks how he broke up with his then girlfriend 8 years ago and how truly cruel and heartless he was, how cold and calculating, and the only silver lining is the tentative awe he is in over his new-found daughter, the way she arrives to speak to him whenever he begins to lose hope on his fugitive journey.
It begins to thaw his character but it still isn’t quite enough to make you truly care for him even though obviously he is the hero of the story and I was still rooting for him.
His interactions with his hostages and the people in the small villages he meets along the way are interesting, because at this point I still wasn’t quite sure what sort of man Tae San was. But his odd kindness with these people was quite interesting, the horror and yet wonder he had at that country woman giving birth making him think of his girl, In Hye giving birth alone all those years ago, the obvious relief he has, despite everything he did, that his daughter Soo Jin still exists in this world.
For me it was when his flashbacks on his relationship with In Hye began for real that I finally began to fully understand why Tae San is the way he is, and that was when I began to truly love him, care for him so badly, and hope so so much that he finds a life worth living at the end of his horrifying journey.
Oh my gosh words can’t describe how much I started loving this character!
The first moment I realised how badly he was hurting and what kind of man he really was, was in his 8 years ago Busan flashbacks in that moment he gives In Hye a lift to her meeting on his motorbike which she is so late for. It is that moment she is dithering back and forth about the helmet before ending up just scurrying away. Tae San laughs softly at her antics and then he catches sight of his reflection in the side mirror of his bike and his own expression floors him and he immediately stops smiling.
Smiling and being happy are obviously not things Tae San is familiar with and this moment made me understand that Tae San didn’t become closed off and shut down in the 8 years since he left In Hye, he was like that to begin with before he ever met her, something else made him become that way, he was always that way. Broken and alone and shut off, a young man with no sense of hope of self worth or belief that he is anything.
Tae San and In Hye’s interactions are lovely to watch in the flashbacks. She is perfect for him, she just pries open his doors and comes rushing inside until he can no longer push her away. He wants her, that much is obvious, he clearly likes her so much, and yet he still tries to get rid of her at the beginning, so sure that she will be better off without him.
But I can also see what she likes about him as well, he is gorgeous and clearly hurting so badly, something that becomes even more obvious when she gives him a present on his birthday, a ring and a note which tells him she is thankful he was born. It is the sweetest thing ever but for Tae San it is something even more important and he just dissolves into tears. Eventually he tells her that his mother committed suicide on his birthday when he was a child and that not once in his entire life has anyone ever been glad that he existed, including himself. And I realised from watching that moment, that he hates himself. And he just cries and cries while In Hye holds him.
Once I began to understand him, it was easier to get behind Tae San’s interactions with the other characters too, like when he meets In Hye again in the present and it becomes obvious there are so many unresolved feelings there, that maybe they are still in love with each other which just kills me because I don’t know if I can see a happy ending for these two.
And when Tae San keeps seeing Soo Jin whenever he is falling apart or losing hope suddenly it breaks my heart. She is everything for him, a reason to live, a reason to become a better man so his daughter isn’t ashamed of him, so that he can live up to this instant love she has given him which he isn’t sure he deserves.
But when Tae San realises that In Hye’s fiancé is none other than one of the detectives trying to catch him, he has never been so ashamed or embarrassed in his life and that scene nearly killed me, as he collapses in tears and pounds against his head.
On a side note I just want to say that I love how emotional Tae San is, I love how he cries and I love that it doesn’t make him any less manly or capable. In fact its an element I adore about all Kdramas, because I guess there is not much in this world that can hit you emotionally quite like a tough man shedding some tears. Seriously it gets me everytime.
Towards The End.
Another aspect of the middle to late episodes of this drama is Tae San’s taking control of his situation and even eventually teaming with the Prosecutor on his case, Park Jae Gyeong. I loved how capable, brave and practical Tae San gets, no longer fixated on the unfairness of his situation or on just staying alive second by second, the tables are turned and he brings the fight to the bad guys, doing all he can to ensure he can walk into that hospital for Soo Jin’s surgery.
The scenes with Park Jae Gyeong and Tae San in her apartment were all pretty cool too, two strong-willed individuals doing their best to work through a really tense precarious situation. I liked how there were no romantic undertones (which sometimes gets automatically inserted no matter how unnecessary just because we have a man and a woman spending time together in close proximity) and instead we get the beginnings of a burgeoning trust and respect.
And that scene where the Prosecutor is forced to tell Tae San that (one of their many) grand plan failed and he laughs out loud even though his face his crumbling in despair. What a full on moment showing how closely Tae San is walking this line between utter broken despair and strong drive to keep going.
I adore him.
On a side note, In Hye’s fiancé has been drawn in deeper than I ever expected, with the man solely responsible for making Tae San lose the camera evidence and now he finds himself in that same position that Tae San was 8 years ago, wanting to protect his family and willing to stoop low to do it. Except obviously Tae San has learned from experience there is always a choice.
Although I kind of do blame Detective Im because it was a dumb move, and I am not too sure how In Hye will manage to forgive him, I do also understand it. He wanted to be the one protecting his little family, he didn’t want Tae San to do it, and also the fact that In Hye chose to help Tae San instead of himself was a huge blow. In his mind it means there are serious lingering feelings between those two which is terrifying for him because it could end up with him losing his adopted family back to Tae San.
I liked the scene where In Hye has been kidnapped and she is rescued by Detective Im. Even though she is so happy to be rescued and she herself told Tae San that as his life was Soo Jin’s life he should stay away, it is still obvious that she was waiting for Tae San anyway, is even maybe disappointed it was Detective Im. Her reaction makes me wonder if she was ever really in love with Detetctive Im or not, or perhaps her relationship with him was borne out of his kindness towards her and Soo Jin rather than consuming love like she had with Tae San. Maybe after it ended with Tae San she wasn’t really even open to falling in love again that same way, which might explain why she is so conflicted now that Tae San has returned into her life.
It is sad, because Detective Im is certainly a good man, but the further I get through this drama the more badly I want Tae San to have a home and life with In Hye after this. I don’t know if it is possible but I also don’t think it will be possible for In Hye to be happily married to Detective Im if Tae San is still around visiting Soo Jin either. I think she is still in love with him.
And that brings me to the ending. At first I felt like I wanted more, something more neatly tied in a bow with a perfect conclusion but then I realised an ending like that would be a disservice to this story that has run so much deeper than a simple fan-servicey ending. Because everything is so much more complicated than that and the answers just aren’t going to be easily grasped by these characters whose journey hasn’t really finished yet.
Which was something I realised in the end I actually utterly adored.
Tae San finally catches Moon Il Seuk, sending him to prison and enabling the assassin Teacher Kim to be caught as well as reunited with his father. Tae San is able to provide the bone marrow for Soo Jin and I liked how simple this was in the end. Such a small procedure so that even Tae San is surprised because he has been living for that moment, and only that moment, for so long.
Because of Tae San, Prosecutor Park is finally able to catch the Congresswoman and this is where the loose ends begin tying up, and where the reality of life and a certain bitter sweetness comes into affect. We see the Congresswoman considering taking her own life with a suicide pill only for Prosecutor Park to show her a video message from her son saying he misses her. She tells the Congresswoman that because she wanted to be an angel for her son she has hurt so many others, and in the end she has utterly failed in every way. Her boy has lost his mother and will now be transported from his expensive care facility back to a free government clinic in Korea. The Congresswoman looks utterly broken and tears run down her face so I actually feel for her in this moment, I really do. No matter the evil she has done, she is right now just a woman who has failed her son.
All the baddies go to jail, brought low and utterly broken, except Teacher Kim who is just now for the first time finding himself through the love and warmth of his father. For the first time we see a hint of a smile on his (very pretty) expressionless face.
The last scene we see of Prosecutor Park just utterly broke my heart and had me literally sobbing. It was also absolutely the most perfect, heartfelt send off for her wonderful character, someone strong and capable (who also made mistakes as well) who was an equal to Tae San in this journey. That quiet understated scene in Prosecutor Park’s apartment was oddly beautiful, just summing up in such a simple way who she is and what she has done.
She has succeeded in her life goal and now taken down her crime information board in her house because it is all over and finished. And then she is left all alone in her tiny apartment with nothing. And then Mi Sook sits down beside her and Prosecutor Park begins to cry as Mi Sook watches her sweetly. She sacrificed Mi Sook, possibly someone she was in love with, and a future together with her for the sake of this case and justice for her dead father.
Was it worth it?
And then it is back to Tae San, the true heart of this story. I wanted so badly for him to just slot easily into In Hye and Soo Jin’s life after the surgery and the three of them could be happy and play happy families. And we see that for one day he got to do exactly that. But then he tells In Hye that he has to leave.
And at first I was so angry, because how can he possibly think of leaving when he has already made them go through so much alone? How can he bear to part with his lovely daughter so soon?
But then I got it.
Maybe right now Soo Jin adores him as her daddy. But what happens when she gets a little older and understands what it really means that he has no money or house or job and can’t look after his family in any way because he spent his life being a prostitute and thug? Will she still be proud of him then?
And Tae San needs so badly to be someone that Soo Jin can be proud of. He is carrying so much guilt, and even though In Hye assures him she has forgiven him, I don’t think he can ever forgive himself until he has something real to offer them. A real life and a chance at being a real family.
And in the meantime whilst he works to get himself back together I think he wants to give In Hye space and time to make a real decision about who she really loves. He doesn’t want her to choose him only because Soo Jin wants him. He doesn’t want her to choose him because she pities him or feels sorry for the hell he has gone through, or even because he was her first love. He wants to give her a real chance to choose Detective Im, a man who has been steady and reliable and strong, if that is whom she truly loves.
So Tae San decides to leave.
But as he walks away he hears Soo Jin’s voice calling for him and he turns and smiles.
So what does it mean?
To me, In Hye has already chosen Tae San, which is the impression I got from her conversation with Detective Im and also from the way she looks at her ex-fiance with such guilt in her eyes. Like she feels so sorry to him that she is feeling that way but there is nothing she can do.
But I also believe that In Hye understands what Tae San needs. He needs time, as she told Detective Im. He needs to work hard and make himself worthy of her in his own eyes, he needs to become a man again that she could love and not a desperate animal.
So In Hye will give him the space to do what he needs and wait for him to come back to her as he certainly will because it is obvious she is the only woman he has ever loved for even a moment in his entire life.
But I don’t think Soo Jin will be so willing to wait or let him go!
She is a smart little girl and heard everything, I think in her opinion her daddy can work on getting himself together whilst still visiting her everyday. And I doubt Tae San can say no to Soo Jin. 🙂
Anyway that was my take on the ending. Open ended, but filled with hope. Perfect. Like the story didn’t end just because the drama did, the characters will go on living and changing even though we are no longer watching.
Lee Jun Ki is just such an awesome actor. I simply cannot praise him enough. Everytime I watch one of his dramas I end it just in awe of how fantastic he is. He turned Tae San from a lowlife scum into a desperate man falling to bits whilst on the run, right on to a living breathing human being I could care about and love. And I mean really love! Through flashbacks and through Lee Jun Ki’s beautiful expressive eyes I felt so much pain, anguish, guilt, shame, wonder, hope and love were revealed, all in such a believable thoughtful way.
Really the whole story boils down to one man’s redemption, all caused by the catalyst of his daughter being his second chance at having a life. It was so much deeper than just a simple man on the run wrongfully accused drama. It was so much better than that too, with the first few, admittedly exciting, but also soulless action episodes evolving into an emotional story of love and hope and choices.
Thank you for reading, please feel free to leave a comment below!
LEE EVIE is a podcaster, blogger and author of dark historical fiction set in old Korea.
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